Let's face it: coming up with a grade-A tweet isn't easy. That's why some people just copy good tweets from other people and act like they came up with the 140-character witticism on their own. This has been going on since the beginning of Twitter.
It now appears Twitter is using its legal authority to crack down on these tweet-stealers. A number of tweets have been deleted on copyright grounds for apparently stealing a bad joke.
As first spotted by @PlagiarismBad, at least five separate tweets have been deleted by Twitter for copying this joke:
saw someone spill their high end juice cleanse all over the sidewalk and now I know god is on my side— uh (@runolgarun) July 9, 2015
Olga Lexell, who, according to her Twitter bio, is a freelance writer in LA, appears to be the first person to publish the joke on Twitter. In a tweet posted this afternoon, she confirmed that she did file a request to have the tweets removed.
I simply explained to Twitter that as a freelance writer I make my living writing jokes (and I use some of my tweets to test out jokes in my other writing). I then explained that as such, the jokes are my intellectual property, and that the users in question did not have my permission to repost them without giving me credit.
She added that most of the accounts that were reusing her tweets without accreditation were "spam accounts that repost tons of other people's jokes every day." This also isn't the first time Twitter has complied with a request like this: Lexell tells The Verge that she's filed similar requests for other jokes. Twitter staffers typically remove the offending tweets "within a few days" without asking Lexell any follow-up questions.
DMCA strikes back
Twitter, like many companies that host content from users, has an entire system for handling claims of copyright infringement. Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), Twitter is provided "safe harbor" from copyright claims so long as it does not try to protect infringing material. Typically, claims concern embedded media like photos and videos, or they're for tweets that link to other websites that are illegally hosting copyrighted material, like movies. It's rarer for a DMCA request to involve the actual text of a 140-character tweet.
Anyone can submit a claim through Twitter's web form, and Twitter staffers weed through the claims to decide which appear valid. If it decides to follow through with the request, Twitter can then remove or delete the tweet. The company's policy is to then give the offending user 10 days to file a counter notice. Twitter also publishes DMCA requests publicly on the website Chilling Effects, though records of this particular claim do not appear to be on the site yet. Twitter declined to comment for this story.
Of course, it should come as little surprise that people and corporations have tried to use DMCA takedowns for illegitimate reasons. Most recently, The Sunday Times tried to use DMCA to block criticism of one of its articles, and GoPro was accused of trying a similar tactic to cut down on negative reviews.
Update, 12:26PM ET: Added statement from Olga Lexell and changed her professional title to freelance writer.